Seafood consumption in Eastern Africa has been increasing as the region’s population grows and more people are becoming more conscious of the health benefits of seafood despite a general fish output decline, especially from Lake Victoria, one of the biggest sources of seafood in Eastern Africa.

Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the three countries sharing Lake Victoria and which are members of the regional East African Community (EAC), a regional economic community, are focusing more on increasing aquaculture investments as a source of seafood to meet growing fish demand.

This shift to aquaculture as a source of seafood also has increased demand for quality fish feeds, sustainable milling enterprises and a viable network with international organizations and development partners to secure uninterrupted supply of aquafeed and the ingredients that go into their manufacture.

“With stagnating production from capture fisheries against rising demand for fish in domestic, regional and international markets, aquaculture presents a great opportunity to provide the much-needed fish supplies,” said Vincent Bamulangaki, former Ugandan Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

The case for farmed fishing in Eastern Africa also has been strengthened by an emerging trend where output of capture fisheries, especially from Lake Victoria, has been on a downward trend recently.

“Lake Victoria’s output is declining rapidly due to pollution, overfishing, and lack of regulation,” said Iris Boom, project manager at Larive International, a Netherlands-based international business development advisory firm that helps companies develop and implement market entry and growth strategies in high-growth markets.

With declining capture fish from the lake, Boom said there has been a spike in the “import of fish — hence a missed opportunity — as East Africa has excellent capabilities to produce local fish for the local market.”

Total fish output in Kenya, for example, declined from 146,700,000 tonnes in 2018 to 146,500,000 tonnes in 2019, with freshwater fish output sliding to 120,900,000 tonnes in 2019 from 122,500,000 tonnes in 2018.

The fish output from the lake accounted for 62.5% of Kenya’s total fish landed in 2019, which was the lowest output over a five-year period.

“The fish catch from Lake Victoria has been dwindling over the years as a result of water pollution and restrictions on fishing in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Tanzania,” said Macdonal George Obudho, general director, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Deficit in capture fisheries output also has been reported in Tanzania, where production has been estimated at 362,600 tonnes against a national consumption demand of 730,000 tonnes.

 “The overall demand for fish in Eastern Africa will continue increasing, thus developing aquaculture to meet the ever-increasing demand for fish is inevitable,” said Shigalla Mahongo, executive director of Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO), an EAC institution that aims to harmonize, develop and adopt conservation and management of fisheries in East Africa.

Uganda and Kenya emerging

Increased investment in aquaculture by governments and private entities has helped Uganda emerge as one of the top five aquaculture producers in Africa.

Uganda’s Department of Fisheries estimates the landlocked country’s aquaculture production at 120,000 tonnes, growing at 15% annually from approximately 25,000 ponds and 3,000 cages. 

A similar increase in aquaculture output has been reported in Kenya, where farmed fish accounted for 12.8% of the country’s fish output in 2019. Production from Kenya’s aquaculture increased by 20.9%, from 15,300 tonnes in 2018 to 18,500 tonnes in 2019.

Currently, aquaculture accounts for a mere 7% to 8% of the fish consumed in East Africa, with the rest accounted for by the dwindling capture fisheries.

Even then, scaling up aquaculture production in East Africa has been constrained by the lack of high-quality fish feeds and raw materials that go into their manufacture such as corn, rice, rice bran, wheat bran, sunflower cake, soybean seeds and sardines.

“The sharp rise in demand for commercial feeds has forced a significant number of farmers to look for non-complete feeds, such as lake shrimp Caradina,” Boom said.

Fish farmers in East Africa “cannot profitably produce fish due to the lack of fish feed, and potential fish feed suppliers are not investing in Kenya due to the absence of a significant aquaculture sector,” Boom said.

“Fish feeds make up roughly 70% of the cost for a fish farmer, so not having local fish feed production is like having a truck without an engine,” she said. “It’s hard to get moving.”

A survey by Larive & Lattice in Kenya estimated tilapia feed consumption at 26,667 tonnes in 2019, of which 20,862 tonnes were commercial feeds.

Cage farmers accounted for 75% to 95% of the commercial fish feed consumed in Kenya while the remaining feeds were home formulated or non-commercial feeds, Boom said.

Another group of fish producers, tank farmers, relied on up to 75% to 80% commercial feeds while intensive pond farmers fully relied on commercial feeds.

Semi-intensive farmers, Boom said, “consume commercial and home formulated feeds in a 50%-50% ratio while extensive pond farmers, on average, consume 10 commercial feeds.”

“Many extensive tilapia farmers ‘top dress’ complete feeds and raw inputs in smaller quantities to complement the nutrients provided by the ecosystem, but also to keep control over feed costs,” she said. “The raw inputs may include wheat bran, cottonseed keg, rice bran and sunflower keg,” she said.

A large share of Eastern Africa’s aquaculture industry inputs is imported from the Netherlands, Mauritius, Israel, Zambia, Egypt and Brazil, according to a statement from the EAC Secretariat.

 Kenya has an estimated 305 licensed feed companies with 115 of them solely manufacturing animal feeds, 96 supplying raw materials and 94 engaging in both, according to Larive International.

In neighboring Tanzania, there are five key private aquafeed investors — four of them local and one international importer — all of whom sell fish feeds directly to aquaculture enterprises.

As early as 2015, Tanzania had through the National Fisheries Policy committed to the “production and regulation of quality aquafeeds and seeds via promotion of private sector participation.”

Streamlining the supply chain

Meanwhile, some international organizations and development partners are working with aquaculture stakeholders in Eastern Africa not only to scale up fish feed production levels, but to streamline the supply chain across the region.

A case in point is Larive International, which is represented in East Africa by Lattice Consulting, jointly with Lattice, and is coordinating and managing FoodTechAfrica, a public private partnership (PPP) that is co-financed by the Dutch government.

“FoodTechAfrica was built to unlock the potential of local fish and feed production in a sustainable and profitable way, combining our powerful aquaculture solutions with market requirements, and our partnership brings a localized mix of knowledge, practical skills and technology, hence enabling fish farmers to overcome farming constraints and become profitable aquaculture entrepreneurs,” Boom said.

FoodTechAfrica comprises 21 companies and universities improving food security in East Africa through the establishment of a fully integrated aquaculture value chain.

The PPP together with Larive & Lattice are also the initiators, coordinators and managers of FeedTechKenya, another PPP focused on the Kenyan market and comprising of a consortium of both Dutch and Kenyan parties active in various areas of the feed value chain.

The 2017 opening of the Unga Holdings Ltd. fish feed factory in Nairobi, by Unga Holdings Ltd. — manufacturer of human nutrition and animal nutrition products and a joint venture of Unga Group Ltd. and US-based Seaboard Corp. — was an outcome of an initiative within the framework of the Dutch PPP’s FoodTechAfrica. 

The factory has the capacity to produce 5,000 tonnes of high-quality extruded floating fish feed annually for the East African market.

“It is the first facility of such level of quality in East Africa that will produce the much-needed, high-quality floating fish feeds, the single most important impediment to the growth of the aquaculture (fish farming) sector in the region,” Boom said. “High-quality feed enables fish farmers to increase their output and lower their production costs per kilogram.”

The Netherlands, a leading player in East Africa’s animal and fish feed sector, is also, within the projects by Larive & Lattice, promoting the use of Dutch feed mill equipment, renowned for its quality and durability, while assuring the equipment meets the local needs and fits within the local environment.

For example, at the Nairobi, Kenya-based Unga Feed Factory, high-quality Dutch technology is used for fish feed production.

However, because other feed millers in the East African market are still using lower quality equipment, “market research shows that many feed millers are producing below capacity, hence not matching with the current demand-supply gap.”

Trade guidelines harmonized

Within East Africa, the six EAC-member countries have harmonized their aquafeed trade guidelines to ease the production, supply and affordability within Eastern Africa.

The guidelines classify fish feeds to include processed feeds, Artemia and other raw materials used in fish feed production such as feed binders, fish meal, feed additives, premix and protein concentrates.

Countries seeking to import the fish feed would require: a permit or clearance letter from a government-approved Competent Authority mandated to regulate the importation; a health certificate and fumigation certificate from certified companies; and a bill of lading and a letter of tax exemption where applicable.

“In cases where there are notifications and alerts when the consignment is on transit to destination, it can be released under seal pending analysis report from accredited/approved laboratory,” a note from the EAC Secretariat said.

 Eastern Africa’s seafood industry remains largely untapped, yet it offers huge “opportunity for commercial aquaculture, including production of live fish food such as Artemia, daphnia and rotifers and investments in the fish feed industry,” said Emmanuel Kaunda, professor, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

However, efforts to develop a vibrant aquafeed market in the region face several hurdles such as fluctuating prices of key aquafeed ingredients such as corn and soybeans both in the local and international markets fueled by global oil prices, weather patterns and currency movements.

Import restrictions for raw materials, (which) increase the costs, scarcity of raw materials and lack access to finance for fish farmers and feed millers are the other challenges the East Africa’s aquafeed market faces.

Boom noted that there is “farmer-feed supplier distrust due to fluctuating feed quality that in turn is caused by fluctuations in raw material quality/availability.”